W. H. Auden’s observation, “We wage the war we are” also applies to human collectives. Carl Jung eloquently described the “collective unconscious,” one example seen often in mob psychology where otherwise law-abiding people can have subterranean demons stirred up to the point of violent behavior. And sociologists and anthropologists…and other social scientists…are adept at delineating how our connection with social groups influences our behavior much more than we ever would like to acknowledge. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has very interesting recordings on YouTube and TedTalks in which he shows evidence that my “firm conviction” to be a liberal Democrat is not without unconscious motivation just as Conservative Republicans are also driven by similar needs.
Even the species as a whole can be compared to an individual child, still early in development, struggling to integrate fragmented impulses into a working, harmonious whole. Just in my lifetime, with technological advances like computers and the internet, our world is so much “smaller,” so much more a “whole”, and we are so very near, yet so very far, to being able to come much closer to world peace and harmony than ever before. We have the means, but lack the will. And I recently came across someone who pointed out the “coincidence” that terrorism has emerged as a formless (i.e. “stateless”) expression of the violent dimensions of our collective unconscious. Jung would say that our collective unconscious is telling us that all of our accomplishments deriving from our conscious need for structure and organization, are finding their complement in the chaos of violence. It is as if our collective unconscious is reminding us, “Oh yes. Technology and progress is great. But it comes by sublimating repressed violent impulses and these violent impulses need to be given attention.” The goal is to continue to seek meaning and coherence in our world while simultaneously acknowledging and addressing the violent unconscious impulses that are within us all. And this can be done through sublimation such as with religion, literature, art and mythology. But I issue a caveat re religion—“Danger, danger Will Robinson.” For religion can easily become just another form of violence as we see so often today.